Why Covered Bridges Matter

Monday, August 29, 2011

Most of you likely know that I am a Vermont Girl.

While not born in the state, we did move there in 1979, when I was nine. My mother was fleeing my father and conceived some crazy notion to just pack up and go to Vermont.

Having never lived in any place more than two years, I was glad that it seemed like maybe we had settled for awhile.  Having never seen snow that I could recall - except for that one time in 2nd grade when we ran out with black construction paper to catch the flakes that fell out of our unlikely North Carolina sky - I was enthused to acquaint myself with the concept of Winter.

One of the first places my mother "found" as she dragged us hither and yon was the Brown Bridge in Clarendon.

Brown Covered Bridge - Clarendon, Vermont
Photo By Doug Kerr

She used to claim that it helped her to think, but I suspected she just wanted to keep my brother and I quiet. Since she had no money, the cheapest form of entertainment for two young kids was certainly a fast cold river, stones, woods and a covered bridge.

Brown Covered Bridge - Clarendon, Vermont
Photo by Doug Kerr

My brother and I - predictably - hated it.   It was so Booooorrrrriiiiinnnnnnnggggg. The water was very,very cold to two children accustomed to swimming in the warmer ocean water of North Carolina. And not deep.  And there wasn't any sand.

But we played. We crawled under the bridge and looked, we walked back and forth through the bridge looking up at the rafters. Years and Years of old carved graffiti were visible. But I remember smells best of all, and the bridge smelled of wood, and dust, and oil and cooler summer air. 

It smelled of Old.

Brown Covered Bridge - Clarendon, Vermont
photo by Doug Kerr

My brother Donnie and I would always get quiet when we would cross the bridge in our GMC truck. It felt solemn driving into the darkness of the bridge, even at noon in the summer, and emerge back into the light on the other side.

Not to mention you had to approach the bridge slowly and make sure another car wasn't coming from the opposite direction. If there was, my mother would have to reverse our giant truck and back up onto a small section...Stop and wait for the other car to make it's way out and pass us.

While my mother "thought", Donnie and I would meander. Make dams with rocks. Try to spot fish. Try to catch water dancers, look for berries and other things we could re-purpose into toys.

The Bridge was not meant to be negotiated Quickly. The Cold River was not meant to be negotiated quickly either, and we learned the art of gripping water slime-slick rocks with our toes as we wavered over the frigid-even-in-the-heat-of-summer water.

Years later, my mother would conscript her unwilling-child minions to carry river rocks to her Truck bed...to be crafted into retaining walls for her gardens. ( and here I have the back of my hand to my forehead, for I hated this job So - slimey, muddy, smelly rock hauling)

Brown bridge, After Irene - It Made it!!!

My hometown, Rutland, did not fare well during Hurricane Irene, but I know that they will re-build, re-enforce and re-group. Vermonters aren't generally known for their waiting for anyone to do anything For them.

Without perpetrating the stereotype, Vermonters are kind of tough people. People who just do what needs to be done and get on with it.  It doesn't amaze me that , per capita, Vermont has the highest losess of citizen from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  You see? We can vehemently disagree with you politically - but if you ask us to do a job we've committed to, we'll do it. 

Places I knew and loved and wandered and ate and laughed and sat next to with boyfriends have been washed away....but new places will spring up. It is how it Is, after all.

What I mourn, most of all, is the Covered Bridges that didn't make it through the floods. Overwhelmed and sideswiped with more water than could have been imagined by their builders in the early 1800's, they simply gave way.

It must seem strange to people who have not known covered bridges to feel such passion about inanimate objects.

"They are just bridges", I have seen written on pages and blogs and reports. "Build a new one and get over it."

Yes, a new bridge will be built, but the old bridges have been Lost. The bridges that tied us to a heritage that whispered of communities coming together to build these bridges, of a before-time based on farming and logging and integrated living with the countryside around us. It reminds me that we are connected to Place in a million ways, and in a million ways, Place defines us.

When a child grows up having a touchstone to a Place - a Covered Bridge, for instance - it reminds us that we are part of a fabric of what came before, and what will come after. We are Part of something bigger and older than us, and will be part of something  from our future past. 

As an adult, I think it has helped me understand the integral part I must play in the preservation and honor of those who came before - even those I never knew and with whom I  have no genealogical ties. I am Them. They are Me.

I mourn these bridges. And I understand the sense of loss felt by the communities. They weren't just bridges, you see. They were part of being a Vermonter. And we need some time to feel that loss.

4 Baleful Regards:

Gurukarm said...

Oh Dawn. Those videos just so much support everything you're saying. Really sad to lose that history.

I heard this morning on the radio, as well, that a number of Vermont towns are now effectively islands - no way to get on or off, either.

Dawn said...

They are islands - Rutland, for instance has had both sides of road destroyed - going in all 4 directions. Both Rt 4 and Rt7 are Gone in huge chunks. Killington is alone on the mountain, since both sides of Rt 4 are gone too, and LOTS of people live up there.

I've also heard "Why didn't people evacuate", but those people clearly don't understand the topography of Vermont.

There aren't Major Highways that connect the State - It is Rural Routes, small Side roads, weaving in and out of mountains. There is no where to go.

Dawn said...

I've also seen bullshit about how wealthy Vermont is - Hahahhahahaaa. No.

Lots of working poor - LOTS. People living hand to mouth, no insurance just lost everything...and I mean everything.

Farmers lost ready fields of corn and hay that were meant to be their feed for the winter, the fields are bare. And it is too late to get another harvest - even if you COULD recreate the topsoil.

The tourist industry - which VT relies on and many of those working poor provide labor towards ( like the Ski industry) is now fucked for the autumn ( foliage) and winter (ski) season. People may not feel for the Corporations, but all the people who were going to work on the Mountain are now out of Jobs.

This winter is going to be hell in Vermont.

Anonymous said...

Dawn -

I've seen much of the Vermont devastation first hand, but had not made it to Clarendon and the Brown, which was built by the same Vermont Bridgewright as the big bridge lost to Irene in Blenheim NY.

I'd been wondering after it, and it was in looking for first hand news, and photos of the Brown that I found your blog.

Always nice to hear another perspective on why Covered Bridges matter - Very nice piece.

-- Will

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